A Challenge to Better Educate Our Youngest Students

Workshop kicks off six sessions of expert discussion on assessing and improving early learning

Duke's Ken Dodge talks with state education superintendent June Atkinson at the early learning "think tank" Friday. Photo by Megan Morr/Duke University Photography

State Superintendent June Atkinson visited Duke's Center for Child and Family Policy Friday morning to kick off a six-month "think tank" on early learning. The Duke center has partnered with the state Department of Instruction on the new effort, which brings together 22 educators, scholars and state leaders.

North Carolina currently measures student performance beginning in grade 3, but state education leaders want to change that. The new goal is to assess children's school readiness when they enter kindergarten and track student performance in grades K through 3.

The "think tank" will meet monthly at Duke into the summer and will issue its recommendations in August. The state's efforts are funded by a federal Race to the Top Early Learning Challenge Grant.

An important goal of the new effort is to spot problems and strengths in children early on. The state is not proposing high-stakes testing for kindergarten students, Atkinson said.

"We want to make sure the assessments help take children to a better place, not hold them back," Atkinson said. "We want this to help us personalize learning."

Ken Dodge, director of the Center for Child and Family Policy, said he hopes the effort helps teachers tailor instruction to the needs of individual children.

"I imagine Individualized Education Plans for every child in North Carolina," Dodge said.